Sunday at MICE is for bumping elbows. That’s the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo, an annual Boston-area zine fest. September 30th and October 1st, 2023. Where the Cottage Farm Historic District abuts the BU campus. The indie comics do was in a Jazz Age industrial building on the river; we had to park down the block as the lot was already full. Everyone inside in masks, and they still had cosplay! Punks! Amazing fits! Volunteer staff walking around the show with crates full of drinks and snacks for the exhibitors at the tables! The Fuller Building is a great, centralized location for the signings, the workshops, panels, and the show itself. But it was bustling. Busting.


Folks behind the tables told me that it was quieter Sunday than Saturday, which I was having a hard time picturing. The line for the Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki signing stretched from one end of the building- the former Cadillac showroom is a city block in length- to the other. New England’s oldest comic shop, The Million Year Picnic, supplied a table’s worth of their new graphic novel from Drawn and Quarterly, Roaming, as well another table with a variety of their creator-owned older works. It was rockstar stuff. At the indie comic show.

MICE Poster
Mattie Lubchansky’s poster for MICE 2023

Is coordinating with a local store to supply your comics for a convention as good an idea as it sounds? Bringing a suitcase with nothing but your wares to a con- or a shipping a pallet- isn’t some task to be taken lightly. And your local bookstores need help, too. But everywhere you turn at MICE, there’s a good idea in effect. Entry is free, the aforementioned masking (and staff minding the exhibitors’ collective blood sugar). There’s a series of MICE mini-grants for the exhibitors to help with their expenses. The workshops were practical, the panels much more than press tours.

Zach Clemente has been involved in MICE for years, normally so involved he doesn’t get a chance to actually be at the table of the micro-press comics publisher he runs. Bulgilhan Press. This year Clemente was in one spot instead of constantly in motion, so I actually got a chance to meet him (and hand off the Sonic stickers I forgot to drop off at his table last year). I got there not long after the doors had opened for the day, but he was still buzzing from a pre-show event MICE had put together for creators. It was panel about failure (it happens sometimes), and it was great.

He was also hyped about a piece of the programming later that day, one the guests were all welcome to attend: an annual show-n-tell where cartoonists get into their storytelling process and then analyze some comics that excite them, the Comics Visual Literacy panel. Good artists talking about what makes good art. My first MICE in 2019 had Ron Wimberly on Katsuhiro Otomo. It’s cool stuff.

It’s a community show. By and for. The attendees were of all ages and vibes, it felt like the show had something to offer everybody, and so a really diverse crowd was in attendance. As always, it was nice to bask in the multicultural, multidisciplinary art scene of the Northeast. But also a MICE community. There were guests I was familiar with who were returning, several years in a row in some cases. Karen Charm and Cathy G Johnson were at Mini-MICE in 2021 and I bought a mountain of Ley Lines from Charm last MICE, the first time the convention was held in the Fuller Building. I always have a couple of must-gets going into MICE, but like TCAF, I count on constant surprises.

MICE haul
The obligatory “MICE haul” photograph.

What kind of creators are featured at MICE? The coolest.

Silver Sprocket was present in the room for sure. I got to grab a gold lief print copy of HA’s The Chromatic Fantasy, but there were several other cartoonists whose Sprocket books I already had– there with self-published work. I loved Grayson Bear’s Al Dente and Kimberly Wang’s Thunder and Lightning. Rosemary Valero-O’Connell was there, part of that introspective panel Zach was so geeked about. Speaking of cool pubs, I’d also previously picked up A Liang Chan’s book from Bulgilhan. Far Distant. Sci fi in a Lynchian, nay, Weerasethakulean vein. Chan had their Dream Journal 2022 at MICE.

I can get extra selective when it comes to stuff like that, the kind of comics storytelling that is markedly more illustrated than textual. This year I went for it instead of resisting. Found a well-printed monster book from Jeroen Funke (James Kochalka comic jam when?) and a techno fairy tale from Chelsea Akpan (originally a ShortBox Comics Fair e-pub). Some stuff from alum Tony Tony Turtle and the Center for Cartoon Studies. Grabbing a poetry comic from CAP Ward turned into a nice mini-conversation about their printmaking background and comics as an art that absorbs other influences.

I’m not alone, hung up on page count and cost. Here’s my yearly encouragement for creators to charge more for what they make, by the way. But! A zine haul like the one I brought home throws a bomb right in the middle of that tortured practice, using the number of pages a comic has to assess if its intellectual return is worth the cover price. Page length as a unit of measurement only works if the stories are all told the same way. In a year where comics that sell 30,000 copies are canceled, success at MICE is a book in an edition of 300. Or 30. And if MICE books don’t have the numbers or star power to get fast tracked as content into other media? Good. MICE is building a scene from more reasonable and meaningful achievements. It’s for the cartoonists who come to the show.

Though the exhibitors are still selling out of stuff. I got the last Giant Monster Invasion and the last Off Leash: Pilot Episode. My partner got the last copy of Sweaty Palms 2 at the booth next to me while I was grabbing Snarlagon. I wasn’t expecting the aesthetic of Andrew MacLean’s sofubi-style tokusatsu send-up to hit me so hard but boom. Constant surprises. Deeply regret not picking up a tour shirt from him, though.

Andrew MacLean’s Snarlagon
Far Distant
A Liang Chan’s Far Distant
Between Sand and Sea
CAP Ward’s Between Sand and Sea
Chelsea Akpan’s Pudica33

On the floor, in the Boston Room early on a Sunday afternoon, it doesn’t feel like comics are in danger of going away. There’s room to walk and browse, maybe take in what’s around you for a second. But the Exhibitor Hall’s flow of people never really rests. There isn’t time to stop. None of the people I walked into while looking at comics were there browsing for art made by artificial intelligence. We want the opposite, of course, the self published. Everything says perpetuate. Community.

Even the sponsors are print companies. Riso workshops by Riso. The Boston Comic Arts Foundation (who also sponsor Calmer Con, “a sensory friendly comics and pop culture convention” happening later in October). Other arts organizations, universities, some of Boston’s many local comic shops. Million Year Picnic, Hub Comics, Comicopia. Each year sees MICE stronger than the last. Cartoonists need support, security, the stability to flourish; then the industry and the art form grows. Not the other way around. MICE is for the people.